It’s no fairy tale

Michael Margolis posts a lot of good links on Facebook. Today’s was a blog entry from Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby.

In the September 1, 2009 entry on his blog, Sivers wrote about a talk by Kurt Vonnegut, who explained “why people have such a need for drama in their life”.

He blamed it on the stories we grow up with. Sivers quotes him as saying, “People have been hearing fantastic stories since time began. The problem is, they think life is supposed to be like the stories.”

That sent me to Google to see if I could track down Vonnegut’s original talk. Bingo. Found it on Lapham’s Quarterly.

Vonnegut drew a graph on a blackboard, what he called “the G-I axis: good fortune-ill fortune. Death and terrible poverty, sickness down here—great prosperity, wonderful health up here. Your average state of affairs here in the middle.”

Arthur Rackham's Cinderella

Arthur Rackham's Cinderella

He warned his audience people buy books and magazines or go to movies to hear stories that fit the rise and fall and ultimate rise of their expectations. Cinderella fits the graph. Hamlet doesn’t.

Vonnegut says we recognize Hamlet as a masterpiece because “Shakespeare told us the truth, and people so rarely tell us the truth…The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is.”

It’s worth checking out the Vonnegut talk and contemplating his graphs in the context of the stories we tell, whether it’s around the kitchen table, in ads, on the nightly news, or to a paying audience.

The talk is vintage Vonnegut, provocative and ironic. Reading it made me ponder our hunger for the dramatic, for the rise and fall and ultimate rise. If we need evidence of that hunger, we have only to surf the channels on TV or scan the magazines while we’re waiting to pay for our groceries.

Would it be a different world if we were satisfied with the small ups and downs of ordinary life? Maybe, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever find out.

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storyroute admin - April 4, 2010

I’ve long been a fan of The Learning Shop and Storytellers Foundation in Hazelton, B.C.. (Best way to follow the creative work they’re doing is to become a Facebook fan.) Their community organizing initiatives, their absorbing and respectful work with youth, their exuberance have inspired me for years.

After I sent out notice of the latest entries on the blogs, one of the Learning Shop/Storytellers Foundation’s founders, Anne Docherty, sent an e-mail. I asked her permission to post it here:

“Your timing could not have been better. Just off the phone with a friend — we have gone down the rabbit hole of stories and letting go of needing to know and have solutions — we’re bringing together community people to come into the rabbit hole with us — environmental activists, literacy practitioners, economic developers, people in the street… wanting to get us all comfortable with the uncomfortable and hanging out with each other although we look different, think different, have vastly different experiences… we are trying to nudge the collective us in to finding common questions rather than common solutions, which is what we always want to jump to. So we are having these circular conversations about a process to help us do this and we keep coming back to only our stories can do this because all we have is our story, the one’s already told, the one’s untapped and the one’s yet to come. Your blog is inspiring and a path that helps me think differently.”

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Michael Fassbender - September 20, 2011

Searched for the information on this theme, and only here I found it. It’s worth checking out the Vonnegut talk and contemplating his graphs in the context of the stories we tell, whether it’s around the kitchen table, in ads, on the nightly news, or to a paying audience.

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